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Poem For Your Thoughts: Your Memories Of Love, Captured In Poetry

Feb 12, 2018
Originally published on February 12, 2018 5:33 am

Back in January, in honor of Valentine's Day, Morning Edition announced a love poem request line: Send us your memories of love and relationships, and author Kwame Alexander will find a poem that captures that feeling.

We got more than 600 heartfelt, moving responses. You shared stories of being smitten and stories of betrayal; stories of parental love and of love between empty nesters.

And, of course, there's at least one love letter to a dog.

Here are Alexander's poetry picks for some of those messages.


Sunny day in a hammock with my lover, Tia. All I can remember is the golden light and her smile. The perfect way we fit together. I knew then I was sunk and in love!

-- Angela Reece (Santa Fe, N.M.)

Alexander recommends "Toothpaste" by E. Ethelbert Miller. He tells NPR's Rachel Martin he wanted a poem "that captured sort of the full romantic moment of this season that we're in. Ethelbert Miller is one of my favorite love poets. He wrote this book called How We Sleep on the Nights We Don't Make Love. It's so concise and rhythmic, and it hits you in the heart."

"Toothpaste" by E. Ethelbert Miller

After dinner
You have the habit
Of curling up in
The couch
Like a tube of
Toothpaste all bent
Funny and nice
I like to brush
After every meal

(From How We Sleep on the Nights We Don't Make Love. Copyright 2004 by E. Ethelbert Miller.)


My late husband always seemed to have a cup of tea for me when we were at places that didn't offer tea. While cleaning and donating his clothing after he died, I found a tea bag in every pocket. Oh how I miss being taken care of like that.

-- Brenda Honsinger (Saginaw, Mich.)

Alexander recommends "Missing You" by Jennifer Gresham. He says, "My mom passed away in September, and I remember taking her suitcase and traveling with it to try and remember her, to try to carry her with me, to keep her in that moment. And Jennifer wrote this amazing book called Diary of a Cell, about sort of the intersection of love and science, and I remembered this poem from 10 years ago from reading it. It really stuck with me and it applied to me, and I think it applied to Brenda."

"Missing You" by Jennifer Gresham

The blue cheese dressing rattles
inside the refrigerator door, half-empty.
I thought about opening it,
drenching each red-green leaf,
just to fill my mouth
with something that you loved.

(From Diary of a Cell. Copyright 2005 by Jennifer Gresham.)


The night my son was born, I didn't put him down for 3 hours. When I finally did put him down randomly, I said, "I love you, LOVE you, LOVE you." That has been our nightly ritual for every night of his life. Three love yous because once wasn't enough.

-- Angela Cryan (Edgewater, Colo.)

Alexander recommends "A Newborn Girl at Passover" by Nan Cohen. He says poems like this capture important life moments "for those of us who have experienced them, and for those of us who haven't, they can sort of find their way."

"A Newborn Girl at Passover" by Nan Cohen

Consider one apricot in a basket of them.
It is very much like all the other apricots —
an individual already, skin and seed.

Now think of this day. One you will probably forget.
The next breath you take, a long drink of air.
Holiday or not, it doesn't matter.

A child is born and doesn't know what day it is.
The particular joy in my heart she cannot imagine.
The taste of apricots is in store for her.

("A Newborn Girl at Passover," by Nan Cohen from Rope Bridge. Copyright 2005 WordTech Communications LLC, Cincinnati, Ohio.)


The moment when he told me, after 30 years, that he had been unfaithful and had been wildly unfaithful to me for years. In that one moment, the life I so cherished with my love, my best friend, shattered like crystal, irreparable. When he left, he took away both our future and our past. Our life together was a chimera, a house of lies and mirrors. Of all my losses, it is the belief in true love that I miss the most.

-- Ginny Garrard (Austin, Texas)

Alexander recommends "Voodoo" by A. Van Jordan. He says, "When we talk about romance and love poems and Valentine's Day, it's always about the joyful love. Well, what about the love that's gone? And I think this poem really captures that, in this whimsical, fun, kind of digestible way."

"Voodoo" by A. Van Jordan
for E. Ethelbert Miller

Once, I showed Ethelbert
A love poem
I wrote about a woman
I was dating.

What you think, man?
I asked.

His comments were an X
He drew from one end
To the other.

Then he folded it up.
Gave it back to me.

Man, don't you know,
I broke up
With that woman.

(From Rise. Copyright 2001 by A. Van Jordan.)


My husband had a work trip that took him across the country for a week. When he arrived at our house, we stood in the kitchen hugging for a long time. The hug was perfect and I had the realization that "home" isn't a place, it's a person. My home is wherever he is.

-- Mary Margaret Niezgoda (Tallahassee, Fla.)

Alexander recommends his own poem, "Picturing You." He says, "I was sitting in front of my television a couple years ago watching TV, and this figure walked in front of the TV. And it was this shapely beautiful woman, and at first I didn't know who it was. And then I realized it was my wife. And it was the weirdest thing, and I ended up writing this poem about that, about her, and I thought it really spoke to this idea of perfect love in an imperfect world."

"Picturing You" by Kwame Alexander

I am not a painter
Browns and blues
We get along
But we
are not close
I am no
Van Gogh
But give me
Plain paper
A dull pencil
Some scotch
And I will
Hijack your curves
Take your soul
Hostage
Paint a portrait
So colorful and delicate
You just may have to
Cut off my ear

(From And Then You Know: New and Selected Poems. Copyright 2009 by Kwame Alexander.)


The first great love of my life was my dog Kayak, who I adopted as a puppy from the shelter when I was in college. ... I spent more time with Kayak than anyone else over the past 10 years. He was my best friend and closest companion. He was my stability. ... Soon after I left Oregon for our last move together, I found out that his kidneys were failing and he passed soon after, in my arms. One of my friends told me she wished she could have given him her kidney and I, too, would have done this in a heartbeat if it would have saved him.

-- Angie Seligman (Bismarck, N.D.)

Alexander recommends "A Dog Has Died" by Pablo Neruda. He says, "I thought Angie really captured her relationship with Kayak, with her dog. It sort of showed this bond that they had. And Pablo Neruda is one of our world treasures in terms of art and poetry and life, and he captures those moments and makes his personal our business. And I felt like with this poem he could really offer some hope, some cheer, some pleasant memory to Angie and to all of us."


Now that my daughter has moved out of the house to live in her college dorms, my man and I have entered a new chapter of our relationship where we are truly equal life partners. We enjoy lazy Saturday mornings, linger over Home Depot runs, explore local foodie hot spots for weekly date nights and plan the occasional getaway from work to explore a new city or a new culture. ... I [find] myself giddily happy with this phase of our relationship. Older couples always told us it was hard to be empty nesters, but I am happy at how close my partner and I have become!

-- Teresa Acosta (Carlsbad, Calif.)

Alexander recommends "The Company She Keeps" by Colleen J. McElroy. He says, "My daughters are getting older, and at some point it's just going to be me and my wife in the house. So what does love look like then? What does love look like when all the kids are gone? And I felt that this poem really captured that for some of our listeners, like Teresa, and I wanted to talk about that — that love in the later years."

"The Company She Keeps" by Colleen J. McElroy

finally she no longer
worries about the moon
and children about
the socks missing
in the wash or the mail
that arrives late
now she refuses to cover
her lust justly seeks
the most prodigious
outlet the lover
immune to age who parlays
time into skill
oh she's practiced
running down the beach
into the sea without
worry of drowing
or being pulled
in by undertow
and she's good
at what she does

she no longer cares
if neighbors catch
her in the act
yelling like a banshee
over each conquest
caught in the blaze
of a fire she makes
every night where
she is the flint
he the match she lights
she shocks slim hipped
youth who believe they
own all that is delicious
this flagrante delicto
this one act she coddles
to perfection
I'm warning you she says:

let me in the door and
I'll take the room let
me in the room and
I'll claim the house let
me in the house and
I'll own the block let
me onto the street and
the town is mind so
best move now cuase
I'm landlady here
and you're never
too old to learn

he leans over
dismisses the pain
in his old joints
kisses her toes

(From Sleeping with the Moon. Copyright 2007 by Colleen J. McElroy. Used with the permission of the poet and the University of Illinois Press.)

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Are you ready? It's almost Valentine's Day. Poet Kwame Alexander sure is. He wrote the young adult novel "Solo," and Kwame is not waiting until Wednesday to celebrate.

KWAME ALEXANDER: It's Valentine's Day week.

MARTIN: It's Valentine's Day week, which is why you're here.

ALEXANDER: I celebrate it every day. I'm in love with love, Rachel.

MARTIN: Kwame, the last time you were here with us, we asked our listeners to write us and share a specific moment in their life about love. We're going to go through a few of these that you selected in particular. We're going to match these moments with poems. And the first one - let's start with Angela Reece. She sent us this message.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANGELA REECE: Sunny day in a hammock with my lover, Tia. All I can remember is the golden light and her smile, the perfect way we fit together. I knew then I was sunk and in love.

ALEXANDER: Wow.

MARTIN: So when our producer got in touch with Angela, she said that she and her partner were getting married. They're getting married on Valentine's Day. So we want to say congratulations to Angela and Tia. So, Kwame, what poem did you find to pair with Angela's moment?

ALEXANDER: This is a poem I found by E. Ethelbert Miller. It's one of my favorite. It's called "Toothpaste." (Reading) After dinner, you have the habit of curling up in the couch like a tube of toothpaste, all bent, funny and nice. I like to brush after every meal.

(LAUGHTER)

ALEXANDER: Isn't that beautiful?

MARTIN: I love it. I love it.

ALEXANDER: Yes.

MARTIN: All right. So predictably, when you ask people to share love stories, they're going to run the gamut in terms of emotions. And Brenda Honsinger sent in this to us. She writes as follows (reading) my late husband always seemed to have a cup of tea for me when we were at places that didn't offer tea. While cleaning and donating his clothing after he died, I found a tea bag in every pocket. Oh, how I miss being taken care of like that.

ALEXANDER: I have a poem for Brenda. It's by a friend of mine named Jennifer Gresham. It's called "Missing You."

MARTIN: OK.

ALEXANDER: (Reading) The blue cheese dressing rattles inside the refrigerator door, half empty. I thought about opening it, drenching each red-green leaf just to fill my mouth with something that you loved.

So my mom passed away in September, and I remember taking her suitcase and traveling with it to try to remember her, to try to carry her with me. And I remembered this poem from 10 years ago, from reading it. It really stuck with me, and it applied to me, and I think it applied to Brenda.

MARTIN: So we heard a lot of messages from listeners about losing loved ones. We also heard several stories about that moment when you hold your first baby for the first time.

ALEXANDER: Yes.

MARTIN: And this is what Angela Cryan said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANGELA CRYAN: The night my son was born, I didn't put him down for three hours. When I finally did put him down, randomly I said, I love you, love you, love you. That has been our nightly ritual for every night of his life - three I love yous because once was never enough.

MARTIN: That is such a lovely experience. For those of us who are parents, we remember holding those newborns for the very first time. What poem did you find to match that?

ALEXANDER: And that's the beauty of poetry, Rachel, is that it captures those moments for those of us who've experienced them and for those of us who haven't.

MARTIN: Right.

ALEXANDER: They can sort of find their way. This is "A Newborn Girl At Passover" by Nan Cohen. (Reading) Consider one apricot in a basket of them. It is very much like all the other apricots - an individual already, skin and seed. Now, think of this day, one you will probably forget, the next breath you take, a long drink of air. Holiday or not, it doesn't matter. A child is born and doesn't know what day it is. The particular joy in my heart, she cannot imagine. The taste of apricots is in store for her.

MARTIN: Mmm (ph).

ALEXANDER: Right?

MARTIN: That's good, yeah, the anticipation of a life - right? - and everything that that baby's going to experience.

ALEXANDER: I'm feeling all the love today.

MARTIN: Oh, I know you are. So that's, like, the new love of a new baby. And then there's the love that you've been sitting with for a long time. This is, of course, what happens in a long-term relationship, and Lisa Gildehaus sent us this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LISA GILDEHAUS: What's the poem for waking up in the morning, curling up to someone you love and imprinting that moment in my mind? Rough times are behind, and they are certainly are ahead. But for this one beautiful moment, I curl up, rest my cheek and know that it's all extraordinary and yet so every day.

MARTIN: You went to work on this one. You wrote an original poem for her.

ALEXANDER: I did.

Love is an art, and this canvas called life can be vast and lonesome without a full heart to trust, without a joyful noise to share, without you.

MARTIN: Kwame Alexander is the author of the young adult novel "Solo" and the publisher of Versify. It's a new imprint from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kwame, thank you so much.

ALEXANDER: Rachel, I got nothing but love for you.

MARTIN: Ditto, thanks my friend.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE")

ZACARI: (Singing) Love me, just love me.

KENDRICK LAMAR: (Rapping) I want to be with you. I want to be... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.